Police released a surveillance photo Tuesday of three people believed to have started a house fire in suburban Denver that killed five recent immigrants from the West African nation of Senegal.
Investigators said the suspects, wearing full face masks and dark hoodies, fled in a dark-colored sedan after the fire was set in the Green Valley Ranch neighborhood, a relatively new development of closely spaced homes near Denver International Airport. Authorities have offered a $14,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for setting the blaze in the early morning hours of Aug. 5.
Killed were Djibril and Adja Diol, along with their 22-month-old daughter Khadija, as well as relative Hassan Diol and her infant daughter Hawa Baye. Three other people managed to escape by jumping from the second floor of the home.
Police, fire officials and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are investigating because there are indications that it was arson, Joe Montoya, division chief of investigations for Denver police, said shortly after the fire. He would not elaborate on the evidence because he said he did not want to compromise the investigation.
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Some Muslim advocacy groups have called on police to consider the possibility of a hate crime, but Montoya has said detectives are looking at all possible angles to avoid getting “tunnel vision.”
Denver Fire Department Capt. Greg Pixley said the victims’ bodies were discovered after firefighters extinguished the blaze, which was first reported by a police officer at 2:40 a.m.
Neighbor Maria Mendoza said she was awakened by noise and someone screaming, “Get the baby out! Get the baby out!” about that time. She ran to a window and saw flames and plumes of smoke rising from the home just down the street.
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“I awoke my husband, and he ran outside to see if he could help. But there was nothing he could do. The fire was too big,” Mendoza said.
A police officer trying to rescue people was pushed back by the fire’s heat. It appears that those who died were all on the first floor.
After the fire, Senegal President Macky Sall tweeted in French that he was monitoring the investigation closely, and he wished the surviving victims a speedy recovery. Senegal Consul General Elhadji Ndao flew to Denver at the request of his country’s leaders and said he is looking forward to the investigation.
“We trust and have confidence in the legal system in this country and this city, and we have confidence that the investigation will take its course and what is proper in terms of diligence will be done,” he said, standing in front of the remnants of the charred home.
Ndao, who was joined by members of the Senegalese community who gathered to mourn the victims, added, “It’s unfortunate that a whole family was gone in this tragic event.”